“In the Wake of Rebels Attack on Liberia...”
April 8, 2002
Speech Delivered By The Executive Director Of The National Forum For Public Policy And Development (NAFOPPODE), Inc. Abraham B. Mitchell, On The Occasion Of The First Edition Of The Edward Wilmot Blyden Forum
Held At The Headquarters Of The Press Union Of Liberia (PUL)
Friday, January 18, 2002, At 1:00 pm, .Monrovia, Liberia
Topic: “In The Wake Of Rebels Attack On Liberia, How Can A Sound And Durable Peace Be Sought”
The President and other Executives of the Press Union of Liberia
Fellow Panelists and other Platform Guests
Officials of Government
Members of the Fourth Estate
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me in the first instance thank the officials of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) for what I consider a distinguished honor for my selection to team up with some prominent Liberians who are politically well placed and very influential especially in terms of public policy formulation and decision-making. By bringing together Liberians from diverse political persuasions and different schools of thought, men who obviously stand fundamentally on different political divides regarding their understanding of the general state of affairs in Liberia, vi-sa-vi what they consider in terms of what constitutes the national interest of Liberia, is the right step in the right direction. Moreover, I feel opportuned and delighted for such a forum because the historical, political and military situation of the small State of Liberia are complex indeed and require public debate and critical review especially by people of such diverse schools of thought.
As you all know, Liberia is at a crossroad; the people of Liberia are exhausted of war; they are yearning for peace and stability and they want to seize the strategic initiative now, place their destiny into their own hands and advance their motherland one great step forward, after more than one hundred and fifty years of fooling around.
In that determination of our people to take their common patrimony and their destiny into their own hands and rebuild their lives, there are primitive, uncouth and wicked forces of society, who are set in their egotistic and very parochial ways, and remain tirelessly determined to perpetuate a state of terror on the people of Liberia, high-jack the Country and accrue the entire wealth of the nation unto themselves as their personal possession. The said forces pretend to be at loggerheads but in actual reality they are collaborators determined to divert the attention of the Mano River Basin and the West African Sub-region from the path of nation building to that of war, war, war and war! This is nonsensical and obnoxious and must be resisted at all cost!
Fellow Compatriots, as if more than seven years of a brutal fratricidal war in which the people of Lofa, like all other innocent Liberians, paid so dearly in blood and tears are not sufficient, the forces of war, destruction and terror have reappeared in Lofa, raining terror, destruction and death of unimaginable proposition on the respectful, humble and very peaceful people of that County. As we gather here, virtually the entire population of Lofa has been up rooted from their birth land and are made to be on the run, with women, children and the elderly moving in similar directions while young boys and able bodied men must move in different direction for fear of being forcibly conscripted into armies of terror. The population of Lofa, one of Liberia’s bread winning sectors of society now lies in ruin, scattered in internally displaced centers and reduced to recipients of handouts! All the farms, the cattles, and other properties of the people left behind have become object for grab and plunder by the vultures. For the forces of destruction, war is business based on primitive accumulation mainly through bloodletting and terror.
Ladies and gentlemen, the situation in Lofa is serious and requires the urgent, undivided collective attention of all Liberians both at home and abroad. What is even more disturbing is the fact that both the NPP-led government and the so-called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) are making confusing and conflicting statements about the situation in Lofa. In actual reality, without an independent assessment of the situation in Lofa the people of Liberia do not have a correct understanding of what is actually happening in that County.
In this regard, we are forced to ask: What is the actual situation in Lofa? Who are the actual insurgents that make up the LURD? Where are they based and what do they want in terms of a political agenda? Who are responsible for the destruction of lives and properties in Lofa? Who is in control of Lofa militarily and why are the people of Lofa afraid of both the government troops and those of the so-called LURD for which they are now massively internally displaced in Centers in near by Counties? Who is talking the truth about the situation in Lofa? What are the root causes of the insurgency in Lofa? And, finally, why Lofa County, for the constant insurgency, and nowhere else? These questions we must attempt to address if we are to seek a sound and durable peace and the resolution of the crisis in that part of the Country. Thus the topic: “In the wake of Rebel attack on Liberia, how can a sound and durable peace be sought?”
Fellow Compatriots, in April 1999, about two years after the ECOWAS sponsored 1997 elections in which the vast majority of the Liberian electorates voted into power one of the belligerent factions in the Liberian Civil War, the Government of Liberia announced to the people of Liberia about the upsurge of an armed insurgency in Voinjama, Lofa County; Liberians, upon hearing the news were perplexed and outraged. The reason was obvious. Liberians, backed by ECOWAS, voted the way they did in the 1997 Elections, to appease the biggest warring faction with the biggest gun hoping that peace and reconciliation through appeasement, would be brought about and the basis for reconstruction of our dear Country as well as our individual lives would have become possible. Little did the people of Liberia and ECOWAS know that the path they had chosen was dangerous, illusive and problematic. Shortly after the first armed incursion, the government of Liberia proclaimed it had crushed the dissidents and the people of Lofa could return to their normal business. Less than a year after the first incident of armed insurgency in Voinjama, the Government in July 2000 announced to the people of Liberia the second, most serious attack; this time, those behind the attack proclaimed and styled themselves as the so called Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). They claimed they were made of dissatisfied elements of the partially disbanded NPFL as well as remnants of other former contending belligerent factions in the Liberian Civil Conflict. The Government of Liberia accused the Guinean Government of militarily backing the armed insurgency into Liberia. Accusation and counter accusation continued between the governments of Liberia and Guinea. The short of the matter was that not only did the military situation in Lofa intensify and escalate thereby virtually engulfing the entire County, but a volatiled Lofa Region bordering both Sierra Leone and Guinea created a fertiled ground and launching path for military incursions into Guinea.
Since the second major armed incursion into Lofa in July 2000, the entire populations and inhabitants of Voinjama, Zorzor, Salayea, etc have been up rooted, placed on the run and those that are surviving are either in displaced centers in Bong County or are living in surrounding bushes in Lofa. We are told that the armed insurgency has come further down into lower Lofa (now Gbapolou) with the population in that area fleeing into Bomi and Grand Cape Mount Counties.
Peaceful Democratic Prescriptions Not Violence and war
Fellow Compatriots, we believe as a matter of principle (a position we have always emphasized) that no group of Liberian(s) no matter the gravity of their grievance(s) has the right to wage war on behalf of the people of Liberia and in so doing seize power militarily and exercise political authority without a mandate from the people. Moreover, we see the shortcut, extra constitutional and undemocratic means employed for the seizure of State Power especially by any group of Liberians who have had no actual history of previous political struggle as very dangerous, opportunistic and conspiratorial. The history of Liberia is replete with such scenarios wherein individuals or groups who have had no history of positive political consequences, would arrogate unto themselves the right to wage war as pseudo liberators and in so doing eventually end up in hijacking the democratic process, taking the people hostage, the Country at ransom, and finally imposing a reign of terror and military dictatorship on society.
The 1980 Military Coup of non-commission officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), as well as the carnage that was perpetrated by all warring factions (without any exception) in the armed conflict of the 1990s are graphic cases in point. That was why all democratic forces stood undivided, in unison, on the principle that no warring faction would be allowed to take power by force of arms. That position we stood by yesterday, that very position as a matter of the same principle, we maintain, unchanged, today.
HISTORY OF FACTIONAL OPPORTUNISM AND COLLABORATION
Fellow Compatriots, those who speak for the LURD have gone on record to present themselves as remnants of former factions that participated in the almost ten years of the Liberian Civil Conflict. Accordingly, in that conflict, they all had the opportunity to participate in the entire political process (including the attending of all peace conferences in West African Capital Cities and the signing of all ECOWAS Peace Accords) that culminated into the 1997 Elections. Interestingly and as a matters of fact, all of the factions that emerged to resist the main belligerent faction, namely, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), at one point in time or the other, connived and collaborated with, received brides from, and in the final analysis opportunistically capitulated to the very forces that make up the very regime they claim to oppose today.
For example, in 1996, Alhaji Kroma of ULIMO-K and Charles Taylor of the NPFL, collaborated military with the acquisance of ECOMOG and waged the “April 6 war” in Monrovia whose ultimate objective was to crush what was considered the Krahn ethnic military bloc that used the BTC as a bastion of resistance in the 10 years of the Liberian Civil Conflict. The arrest of Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO-J was therefore only a pretext. Remember, earlier in December 1995, Roosevelt Johnson himself of the ULIMO-J had waged war on the Nigerian Contingent of ECOMOG in Bomi County with financial, political and moral support from the leadership of the NPFL. In that incident, many Nigerian Troops were killed and their heavy weaponry humiliatingly seized by ULIMO-J. Many political observers believed that that was the source of the “April 6 war” in Monrovia.
Similarly, the INPFL of Prince Johnson which was the original break away faction of the NPFL and which fought and supported the initial landing of the ECOMOG Troops in Liberia in August 1990 as well as supported and participated in the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), finally connived, collaborated with and in the end result sold out to the NPFL in 1992 during the infamous “Octopus War on Monrovia”. That war was the grandious NPFL military strategy that was aimed at overthrowing the ECOWAS-backed INGU and the seizure of the power militarily. In that futile scenario, the INPFL leader, Prince Johnson, narrowly escaped the wrath of the forces of the NPFL which disingenuously attempted to use the unholy alliance between the INPFL and the NPFL as an opportuned occasion to exterminate him (Prince Johnson) because of his earlier betrayal of his mother organization the NPFL. Accordingly, Prince Johnson quickly smelled the rat, shifted alliance from the NPFL and turned himself over to ECOMOG; that situation saw the final demise of the INPFL and the exile of Prince Johnson.
In the sequence of gross display of opportunism, vacillation and political sell out modus operandi and behavior of the various warring factions, the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) which served as the reservoir from which all warring factions in the Liberia Civil Conflict acquired the military personnel that constituted their respective high commands (including the NPFL), was no exception to the political games of “eat so eat so”. For example, during the peace talk in Akosomo, Ghana, out of which the Akosomo Accord came, the military high command of the AFL which had earlier maintained the position of being a National Army and argued it had a statutory mandate to defend the State of Liberia, saw itself subsequently shifting from that position in 360 degrees. The AFL High Command was assured by the NPFL of its support to chair the Liberian National Transitional Government (LNTG). Accordingly, the inclusion on the LNTG of the AFL automatically implied that the AFL would have compromised its status as a National Army to becoming a factional enity like all other warring factions that were signatories to the Akosomo Accord. Thus, admittedly, the high command of the AFL consented and fell prey to the NPFL-led conspiracy. In the final analysis, the AFL did not only lose its National Army status but also lost out in the race for the Chairmanship of the LNTG at the Akosomo Conference in Ghana. Consequently, the AFL, the force the NPFL regarded as the only threat to its strategy of seizing power militarily in Monrovia had fallen prey to political manipulations of the later, with some elements of the high command of the AFL, driven by personal agenda, also selling out to the political elites of the NPFL and subsequently to the NPP-regime. Finally, the immediate post-election September 18, 1998 military showdown in Monrovia by the NPP-government, provoked by Roosevelt Johnson and co became the last straw that finished the AFL as a political, military force.
Fellow Compatriots, you all know as the result of the September 18 military strike, that which left with the AFL as a resistant force after the selling out of the others, was either crushed to death, arrested and imprisoned and/or forced to flee into exile. September 18 therefore punctuated the greatest military achievement by the NPFL which it failed to acquire for the most part of its military adventure throughout the 1990s.
Furthermore, the Lofa Defense Force (LDF), a creation of the NPFL to serve as a disguised auxiliary of that faction to resist the ULIMO-K in Lofa County (which together with ULIMO-J) had ousted the NPFL out of the Counties of Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Lofa, also broke with the parent organization in the war and joined forces with a bloc of anti-NPFL forces (ULIMO-J, LPC, and CRC-NPFL). However, during and after the July 19, 1997 Elections, the leadership of LDF (once more teamed up with the NPFL after its leadership had earlier collaborated with NPFL renegades who constituted the Central Revolutionary Council CRC NPFL.) The leader of the defunct LDF, Francios Massaquoi heavily became a close ally of the NPFL leadership once more. It was that situation that earned him (Francois) the post of Minister of Youth and Sports. Massaquoi, A renegade turned a prodigal son, began to use his factional influence to recruit former LDF fighters to resist the dissidents in the Lofa war on the side of the government and was always shuttling between Monrovia and the Lofa war front. Thus, the Sports Minister, was said to have been killed by dissidents while distributing reliefs to government troops at the battlefront in Lofa.
The CRC too, made up of prominent NPFL Political architects, namely, Laveli Supuwood, Sam Dokie and Tom Wowiyou, upon breaking with the principal leadership of the NPFL, saw itself disintegrate during the July 19, 1997 elections. Consequently, Supuwood and Dokie joined forces with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf while Wowiyou returned to base now a member of the NPP and member of the Legislature. Of course, the story of Dokie, like Massaquoi and others, is history!
Finally, the Liberia Peace Council (LPC), headed by George Boley, schoolmate of the NPFL leader, Charles Taylor at Ricks Institute and, former Assistant Minister of Education in the True Whig Party Tolbert Government, is strongly believed to have sold all the territories occupied by the LPC to the NPFL shortly before the disarmament that immediately preceded the 1997 Elections. Such a scheme enabled the NPFL to retake the Counties of Maryland, Sinoe, Rivercess, and Grand Bassa, which the NPFL had frantically failed to retake militarily from the LPC during the war. The importance of the take over of said LPC territories prior to the then pending Elections was important because, whoever maintained a military presence in any areas, prior to the Elections, would have obviously influenced the electoral process and result in said areas.
Fellow Compatriots, those were what characterized the actual political nature of the forces that made up the aforementioned factions in the wars of the 90s on the one hand and the relationships between the said warring factions and the NPFL on the other. Today, it is the conglomeration of some of those very characters that now call themselves LURD who are claiming to be fighting for Reconciliation and Democracy. Accordingly, not only is the persecution of the armed insurgency in Lofa absolutely not different from the mayhem and carnage that were perpetrated against innocent children, women, the elderly in the 1990s, but the kinds of pronouncements various LURD Spokespersons make on the VOA and the BBC, makes one to be further suspicious of them as a bunch of pay agents masquerading as armed insurgents.
For example, whenever the government of Liberia announces the death of any of its prominent officials as having been killed by dissidents, the LURD comes on the air wave to take claim of the death of said officials of government, in ways that amount to self-incrimination. In the case of the death of the Youth and Sport Minister, Francios Massaquoi, the Government of Liberia announced that the Minister was killed by dissidents in Voinjama while disembarking a helicopter, distributing reliefs to soldiers at the war front. No sooner did the government make its pronouncement, the LURD Spokesman appeared on the BBC Focus on Africa Program and took claim and responsibility for the death, but “regretted killing a fellow Liberian brother”. In another incident about a month ago, News had widely circulated in about an alleged failed coup d’ etate in Monrovia. The news of the alleged failed coup was also associated with the alleged death of several military and para military personnel who were alleged to have been linked to the alleged failed coup. Within that moment of the alleged coup, the government of Liberia announced the death of its Deputy Minister of National Security Emmett Ross. The government announced that Emmett Ross had been killed in an armed bush by dissidents. As usual, shortly after the government’s pronouncement, the spokesman of LURD called up the BBC to confirm that its forces were responsible for the death of Mr. Ross, reaffirming what the government had claimed, that the Deputy Minister was killed in an armed bush by them.
In the two separate incidents of Massaquoi and Ross, not only do we observe the LURD public pronouncements, taking responsibility for the deaths of the two figures, based exactly on Government’s claims makes them appear to be telling lies and claiming easy victories as well as engaging in acts of self-incrimination, but their entire war propaganda strategy by and large, does them more harm than good and more good than harm for the government in the eyes of the public. Because as a matter of simple logic, nowhere in propaganda warfare, whether by telling the truth or telling lies, does one present oneself as promoting and serving as shock absorber for one’s adversaries.
In addition to the aforesaid observation, the LURD is very noted for making wild claims, preceded by Government’s pronouncements, of inflicting heavy casualties on Government’s position as well as seizing/capturing large territories from government with “all Roads leading to Monrovia”. Accordingly, from our studies and observations, such claims of Government about strategic advances of LURD on its position are usually linked with the timing of a major political event, which as a matter of politico-military strategy the Government may be trying to avert or pre-empt. For example, we’ve noticed shortly before the imposition of the United Nations Sanctions on the Taylor government in May 2001, not only did the war in Lofa unprecedentedly experience an unimaginable escalation and a reported enormous set back for government in terms of lost of territory, men as well as arms and ammunition to the LURD, but the LURD was well reported to have been advancing on Gbarnga, and was on her way to Kakata and Monrovia. In that period, both the Government and LURD insinuated that the LURD had already infiltrated men into Monrovia. Consequently, scare and panic grabbed Monrovians. However, as soon as the United Nations Security Council, undeterred, finally imposed the sanction, not only did hostility subside, but Government in no time reclaimed all vast lost territories in Lofa such as Salayea, Zorzor, Voinjama, etc.
Similarly, it will interest you to note, immediately after the Chairman of the NPP, Chief Cyril Allen, was honored and gowned in Gbapolou, which was preceded by a series of unprecedented relief donations to the people of Gbapolou, by the Minister of Justice, son of that region, the LURD was said to have made new advances in the Belleh Forests, advancing to the Capital of Gbapolou, with thousands of our people up rooted from their land and being forced to flee. This new wave of insurgency is taking place when the United Nations is reviewing whether or not to maintain the current sanction and include in it new aspects of logs and the Maritime Funds.
Fellow Compatriots, by the argument and analysis we present, please do not construe us to mean that there does not exist a group called LURD with its numerous Spokespersons such as Joe Wylie, Hansen Williams and Charles Bennie; neither are we trying to suggest that nothing is happening in Lofa County. Whatever may be the situation in Lofa, the people of Liberia have begun to suspect that there are more political schemes, conspiracies and games being carried out in Lofa and Gbapolou than real, actual war. Moreover, we are beginning to detect that the insurgency in Lofa is cleverly being amplified and exploited for grandiose political ends.
ROOT CAUSES OF THE CONTINUED ARMED INSURGENCY IN LOFA
Fellow Compatriots, out of nothing comes nothing. In other words, nothing drops from the clear blue sky. Thus, we consider the following as part of the root causes of the war in Lofa and the entire State of Lawlessness in the Country at large:
A) MILITARY - SECURITY SITUATION
The ECOWAS arrangement that laid the basis for the 1997 elections also consciously called for the restructuring of the National Army and other Security Forces of Liberia. If implemented, that aspect of the ECOWAS arrangement would have led to the creation of a new national army and security system that would have been defactionalized, de-ethnized, detraumatized, and become a professional and legitimate military and security arrangement; with their training and new orientation, the military and security forces would have naturally and logically been inclined and obliged to respect the people, law and order; protect basic human rights, by conducting themselves within the confines of the law and the ethics of military doctrine. Interestingly, not only was the ECOWAS arrangement deliberately aborted by the NPP-led government, but it (the government) failed to carry out its own restructuring exercise of the National Army, after having established a National Restructuring Commission with an initial budgetary allotment. Thus, we ask, in the absence of a National Army, who is actually entrusted, with the noble task of persecuting the anti-insurgency war for government in Lofa? In this case, how can an irregular militia, factional in its composition and orientation and not created by law, be entrusted with the noble task of defending the territorial integrity and the sovereign people of Liberia? For a group of armed forces, fragmented and adhocly brought together without proper training and created outside of the parameters of the law, what guarantee do we have that such forces are not equally responsible for crimes against the people of Lofa that the dissidents are being accused of? Furthermore, to whom are such unconstitutional private militia accountable in the persecution of the war in Lofa the Commander-In-Chief of the Republic of Liberia whose functions and responsibilities are clearly spelled out in the Constitution? In other words, how can a democratically elected, constitutionally guided government rely on unconstitutional armed groups for the protection and defense of that Government as well as the sovereign people and territorial integrity of the Land? These are some of the problems in Lofa today which are responsible for the victimization of the people of Lofa.
By its failure and blatant refusal to create a legitimately acceptable National Army and Security System, against the background of almost a decade of a bloody, fratricidal armed conflict perpetrated by a multiplicity of belligerent factions, Government has not only successfully created an atmosphere of fear, suspicion, insecurity and witch-hunting, but has made the entire County unsafe for all, but safe for the few with blind, factional loyalty to it; in which case, the Liberian State, originally defined by law, has now become a factional entity, contrary to law, under the NPP-led government. This problem is fundamental to the resolution of the crisis in Lofa as well as the general state of lawlessness and human rights violations by state security forces in other parts of the Country.
B) INTRA-FACTIONAL FIGHTING AMONG GOVERNMENT FORCES
Ladies and gentlemen, another major factor that has further complicated the armed conflict in Lofa and is responsible for the prolongation of the war in that region is the well established belief of intra-factional fight among the adhocly arranged armed groups put together and entrusted with the responsibility by the government of Liberia to fight the dissident forces in Lofa. According to the United Nations Security Council report on Liberia, based on Resolution 1343-2001, “By August, fighting continued between rebels and government troops, especially around the towns of Kolahum and Voinjama”. The report continued, “not only all the fighting was by rebels. There were also incidents where different Liberian government armed groups fought each other for loot and control of resources.” This is very serious and dangerous.
Furthermore, many civilians fleeing from the war in Lofa and Gbapolou testify they did not see the dissidents but only heard firing in the bushes and were told by government armed groups to leave, for the dissidents were coming.
C) POSSIBLE LINK BETWEEN THE GOVERNMENT FORCES AND THE RUF
Another issue of paramount concern in the war in Lofa is the link between the RUF and government forces. This is serious because the RUF is strongly believed to be providing support for Guinean dissidents in the war against Guinea. In that situation, if the forces of government are seeing collaborating militarily with the RUF, this logically draws the Guinean in against Liberia in which case the people suffer. For example, according to the United Nations Security Council Report on Liberia Resolution 1343 (2001), “ The Panel has interviewed many RUF Members about their Liberian connections. Since August, RUF has moved weapons to Liberia via Kailahun, then caching them in the ‘Kuya’ area. Before disarmament in Kono District, RUF used to maintain its main ammunition dump in Kono. They have since also moved many of these arms and ammunition to Vahun in Liberia". Furthermore, according to the same United Nations Report on Liberia,
“In June, President Taylor met with RUF representatives in Folima and offered them additional funding for their assistance in the Lofa war… This was followed by second meeting of Guinean dissidents and RUF at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia. Taylor once more offered funds in return for their services to fight the Liberian dissidents.” The same United Nations Report on Liberia, indicated,
“ The RUF structure in Liberia is difficult to determine. The RUF have probably around 600 men, consisting of four companies and a support element in Liberia right now. They are being primarily used as a counter insurgence forces in the bush against the dissident activities in Lofa. Their main base is camp Najma, a camp where Liberian RUF are trained. The commander at the camp is Liberian Special Security Service Kissi Captain Tamba Malin. Recruitment is mainly from refugee camps where men are offered US$300.00 as incentive to join.”
Furtherance to issue as to who actually the so-called LURD are and where they are possibly based, it is important for the people of Liberia to know. Thus, the United Nations Security Council Report on Liberia 1343 (2001), provides the following information:
1. “ The leadership of LURD is opaque (obscured). Conakry based Sekou Kone is a provisional chairman of the Executive Committee his prime role is to liaise with President Conte of Guinea. Self-styled Joe Wlylie is a key military adviser, also based in Conakry. In September there were some changes; Prince Seo was appointed the new Chief of Staff. Seo was a Krahn fighter who fought with Roosevelt Johnson, one of the former warlords in Liberia. He recently joined LURD with some 100 ULIMO-K fighters loyal to him; Seo replaced Charles Dent, a former ULIMO-K Chief -of - Staff in August. This reshuffle has caused discontent among the LURD fighters.
2. “The reality is more complex. LURD has enjoyed its main support from Guinea where it has foothold in towns like Kissidougou, Macenta and Nzerekore, like the Sierra Leonean Donzos were used against RUF, LURD was encouraged by Guinea to keep Charles Taylor tied up militarily in Lofa. Guinea has supported LURD with cross-border artillery fire from time to time in 2001 and Guinean liaison officers have crossed into Lofa County to assess LURD’s progress.
D) POLITICAL INTOLERANCE AND LAWLESSNESS
Fellow Compatriots, Since the Lofa insurgency was announced by Government to the people of Liberia, virtually every prominent Liberian, Pro-democracy, Human Rights Activist has been mischievously linked to dissident activities by cronies of the NPP- Regime. The situation in Lofa has become more of a bastion for the incrimination of perceived enemies, witch hunting and the settling of old political scores, than what both the LURD and government claim is happening in North Western Liberia. Consequently, virtually every prominent opposition figure has not only been charged with treason for alleged collaborative activities with so called dissidents but are either in detention and/or scared out of the Country. Even University Students, innocent and youthful, who, in their attempt to exercise their democratic rights to show solidarity with young journalists imprisoned by the State, were flogged and branded with the infamous stigma: “Dissident Collaborators”. The feeble amongst the Students had to run into exile, with some narrowly escaping death on stranded vessels on the ocean. In this state of affairs, the people of Liberia are now kept under constant fear, anxiety and in a state of trauma.
Fellow Compatriots, besides the armed insurgency in Lofa, other parts of the Country where there is relative stability have had and continue to have their share of the era of terror, structural violence and human rights violations. In its annual situation report for the period January 1 December 31, 2001, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) indicated that “Atrocities committed by the State Security Personnel, often with impunity, against the civilian population…. surpassed in dimension the total sum of all other human rights violations committed against the Liberian people and foreigners alike”. The report cataloged more than 20 separate serious incidents of Human Rights Abuses and violations by State Security Forces, including a case of 23 year old officer of the ATU killing his biological mother in cold blood in the City of Gbarnga on February 23, and the invasion of the University of Liberia by ATU and SOD Personnel in which defenseless students and professors were brutalized and illegally detained.
Moreover, the lack of a genuine national program of reconciliation and the state of economic hardship, poverty, hunger and unemployment has all compounded the suffering of the Liberian people. The people of Liberia, of all strata of society, are tired and are now being pushed to the wall to accept anything in alternative to the NPP led government. This too is dangerous as fighting for change in the state of desperation most often than not yields extreme results.
A NEW SCHOOL OF THOUGHT ABOUT THE ARMED CONFLICT IN LOFA
Fellow Compatriots, the Lofa Crisis has for the most part taken on a rather new trend a trend that looks more of a political conspiracy than a real war, a necessary evil for the making of political capital, than one that is seen as a threat to the government and must be resolved at all cost. Against this background, prominent figures in both government and the National Patriot Party, rather than concentrate on how to end the crisis in Lofa, are now using the crisis as a pretext not to hold Elections in 2003, and for the purpose of witch hunting and scaring fellow citizens away from the Country. Based on these new trends and developments, there is a new school of thought developing amongst Liberians about the war in Lofa. That School of thought is anchored on the following thesis: That the actual motive of the war in Lofa is ulterior and is intended:
To keep the general population in a state of constant fear, anxiety, hopelessness and frustration;
To keep the people of Lofa in particular and those of Liberia in general on a constant run and divert their attention from the real burning issues of socio, economic and political concerns to those of war and war;
To use the war in Lofa as a pretext for the militarization of the Country and the allocation of huge defense budget without accountability;
To consciously avoid national development initiatives and use the war as a cover for the unacceptable, dismal failure of government to reconstruct the Country destroyed by the forces of war, in and out of government, brought on the people of Liberia;
To use the situation in Lofa for political mischief making by falsely, linking every possible well meaning Liberian perceived as threat to the government, to so called dissident activities;
To scare the people out of the Country and make those already out reluctant to return;
To use the situation in Lofa as a pretext not to hold elections in 2003. Or if elections were to be held, such elections would be held in a state of fear, insecurity, and a dislocated population thereby creating a complex situation whereby a proportional representation system of elections are imposed on the people;
Finally, many Liberians are beginning to rationalize that the dissidents and the government could very well be in cahoot but are placing the people of Liberia under the false impression that they are in a fierce fight. The objective for this is to sabotage and hijack the democratic process.
Fellow Compatriots, against the background of the foregoing, how can a sound and durable peace be sought? We propose the following:
1. That both the governments of Guinea and Liberia stop harboring anti-government dissidents in each other’s Country and genuinely work toward peace instead of war, regional stability than internecine conflicts.
2. That the people of Liberia for once should begin to discover and realize that the power to rescue Liberia lies in their sovereign hands, not the guns, and they must now get ready to stand up to the national challenge, as the people of Sierra Leone did and not continue to run from the forces of war. The people of Liberia must realize that the worst thing that can happen to a man is the fear of death, not death; they must now stand up for their rights and not surrender themselves into the hands of the wicked forces. In this regard, we call on the people of Liberia to bring pressure to bear on their government to put an immediate halt to the war in Lofa and return the citizens of Lofa to their birth land that enough is enough and anything to the contrary is absolutely unacceptable.
3. We call on the insurgents of the so-called LURD to stop the war, as they are incapable of winning any military victory in a war, which does not have the backing of the sovereign people of Liberia. The LURD should be told in no uncertain terms that base on what the people of Liberia have seen and witnessed in the last decade, not only will they not encourage or support any armed insurgency, but they will stand up against it, eventually!
4. We call on the Chairman, the Standard Bearer and other Executives of the National Patriotic Party to warn their members (in and out of government) to desist from mischievously linking decent, well meaning, democratically minded Liberians to the dissidents activities in Lofa. The tolerance of the Liberian people should never be confused for weakness and cowardice. A hint to the wise is sufficient.
5. We call on the members of the Forth Estate in particular and the sovereign people of Liberia at large to demand from the government, an independent assessment of the general situation in Lofa and Gbapolou so as to correctly be informed and thereby adopt the appropriate strategy to deal with the situation in Lofa.
6. Importantly, fundamental to the ending of the war in Lofa and the general state of lawlessness and wanton abuse of the human rights of the sovereign people of Liberia by State Security Forces, is the restructuring of the National Army and other Para-Military Forces of Liberia, as prescribed by the ECOWAS Peace arrangement that provided the basis for the holding of the ECOWAS Sponsored Elections of 1997 that brought the NPP-led government to power. Let it be recalled that in the Liberian Civil War there was absolutely no military winner, that is why the Liberian Civil War ended in a negotiated arrangement, punctuated by the ECOWAS-backed elections, which albeit, were conducted outside of the parameters of certain salient constitutional provisions in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. Until this fundamental issue is addressed and resolved, I’m afraid, the current military and political crisis in Liberia would be far from over
7. We call on ECOWAS and the International Community to give the situation in Lofa in particular and general crisis in Liberia their prompt, utmost and a decisive attention. As a founding member of the UN, OAU and ECOWAS, the people of Liberia, like the people of Sierra Leone, deserve better.
Liberia Will Rise Again !!
I thank you, God Bless.
© The Perspective
P.O. Box 450493
Atlanta, GA 31145